Sour Grapes

The Fox and Grapes

By Joseph Manning

I’ve got a version of Aesop’s fable “Fox and Grapes” for you today that I’ve abridged slightly.  This version introduces a mouse who taunts the fox.  You may have already seen the Greek word for ‘fox’ in another post.

A fox seeing a cluster of ripe grapes on a trellis was desiring to eat them, but was unable to find a way to eat as they were at some height. A mouse seeing this laughed aloud saying: “You’ll munch on nothing.” The fox not wanting to give credit to the mouse said: “They are sour grapes.”

Ἀλώπηξ ἐν κρεβαττινᾷ βότρυας πεπείρους ἰδοῦσα ἤμελλε φαγεῖν μέν, ἐν ὕψει δὄντας οὐκ ηὐπόρει φαγεῖν. Μῦς δἰδὼν ταύτην ἐμειδίασεν εἰπών· Οὐδὲν τρώγεις. Ἡ δἀλώπηξ μὴ θέλουσα ἡττηθῆναι παρὰ τοῦ μυὸς ἔφη· Ὄμφακές εἰσιν.

Alopex en krebattina botruas pepeirous idousa emelle phagein men, en hupsei de ontas ouk euporei phageinMus de idon tauten emeidiasen eipon: “Ouden trogeis.”   He de alopex me thelousa hettethenai para tou muos ephe: “Ompakes eisin.”

Ἀλώπηξ ἐν κρεβαττινᾷ βότρυας πεπείρους ἰδοῦσα ἤμελλε φαγεῖν μέν,

Ἀλώπηξalopex:  fox
κρεβασσινά /  κρεβαττινkrebassina / krebattina: trellis: the double-t / double-s shift is common in Greek dialects — Attic has ττ and other dialects like Ionic have σσ.  Our passage has ττ signifying the dialect is Attic.
βότρυςbotrus: cluster of grapes
πέπειροςpepeiros: ripe
ἰδοῦσαidousa: to see
μέλλωmello: to want
φαγεῖνphagein: to eat; from phago we get words like ‘esophagus’ and ‘sarcophagus.’  Sarko means ‘flesh,’ so a ‘sarcophagus’ is a ‘flesh-eater’ or a box that encloses as if having swallowed a dead body.

ἐν ὕψει δὲ ὄντας οὐκ ηὐπόρει φαγεῖν.

ὕψοςhupsos: height
εὐπορέωeuporeo: to find a way

Μῦς δὲ ἰδὼν ταύτην ἐμειδίασεν εἰπών· Οὐδὲν τρώγεις.

ΜῦςmusThis word interests me. Among Indo-European words, those that show little variation among languages tend to be those that are more “fundamental” to a language’s syntax.  For example, our words for “why, who, that, the, and, I, etc.” are used often and change little over time — and little across languages, whereas more superficial words come and go: notably some words are more meme than word appearing rapidly from nowhere and leaving just as soon (blog, blogosphere, tweet, to google.)  Well, look how little ‘mouse’ changes among Indo-European language.  This might be because mice are a constant companion to humanity.

Few words are nearly universal not just in one language family but among all languages. One of the few I’ve seen that is not only nearly universal but also probably prehistoric is ‘dad.’  This word’s origins could go as far back as to the dawn of Homo Sapiens 200,000 years ago.

μειδιάωmeidiao: to smile, laugh aloud
Οὐδὲνouden: nothing
τρώγειςtrogeis: to gnaw, nibble, munch

Ἡ δὲ ἀλώπηξ μὴ θέλουσα ἡττηθῆναι παρὰ τοῦ μυὸς ἔφη· Ὄμφακές εἰσιν.

αἰτιάομαιaitiaomai: to give credit to
ὄμφαξomphax: an unripe grape

Oh, so sour. Poor fox.



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3 responses to “Sour Grapes

  1. Arianna

    Hallo, I’m an Italian student and I was translating from Greek this Aesop’s fable, but when I found the word κρεβαττινᾷ (in my test it was κρεβαττινῃ, but I know that it’s the same) and I didn’t find it in the dictionary (Rocci), therefore I tried to search it in the Internet and I didn’t find it in the two online dictionary I know ( ;, and I find it only in your post. So I ask you if you know why I didn’t find it and what does it mean.
    Thanks for attention.
    P.S.: Sorry for mistakes, but my English is not very good.

  2. Hello! I was puzzled by ‘κρεβαττινᾷ’ myself when I wrote this post. As far as I know, this word is a hapax legomenon. Hapax legomenon means “(something) said (only) once,” and ‘κρεβαττινᾷ’ seems to appear in the Ancient Greek language’s written record only in this one fable. It doesn’t appear in any Greek-English lexicon I have got. If it is a hapax legomenon, its meaning is unknown. We can only make educated guesses.

    Most translations use the word ‘trellis.’ The sentence we have is: “A fox seeing a cluster of ripe grapes on (or in) ___________ was desiring to eat them, but was unable to find a way to eat as they were at some height.” The word ‘trellis’ fills in the blank nicely and makes sense. I went with this word, though in hindsight I probably should have noted all of this.

    Another website ( tackling this fable points us to confer ‘κρεμαστός’ and its meaning of ‘hung up, hanging.’ The phonemes, \m\ and \b\ are both labials making a shift from one to the other plausible. Changing only the \m\ in ‘κρεμαστός’ to a \b\ we get ‘κρεβαστός’ which is pretty near to ‘κρεβαττινᾷ.’ So its likely that whatever the word means it is probably related to ‘κρεμαστός.’

  3. Arianna

    Ok, thank you very much for your quick and accurate answer.
    It was really useful to me, I didn’t think it could be a hapax legomenon.

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